Kansas can do a better job with its COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Here's how.
We have the answer to the terrible scourge of COVID-19: the vaccines that our nation’s top-notch researchers and scientists worked feverishly behind the scenes to get safely and quickly into the arms of the Kansans who want and need it. Since January 2020, I have been committed to the development and manufacturing of these vaccines. The federal government and American ingenuity have fulfilled critical milestones to turn the tide in this public health emergency, having delivered not one but two safe and effective vaccines to date through Operation Warp Speed.
In fact, millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are already being distributed and administered across the nation, bringing the hope and possibility of widespread immunity by spring.
As states work through phases of vaccination by population, it brings renewed hope of returning to life as we've known it. However, while Kansas was provided more than 200,000 doses, our state has only vaccinated 93,885 people. Some states completed phase 1 vaccinations for health care workers and long-term care facilities in December, but Kansas is still weeks away from accomplishing this. As our state moves to phase 2, we can’t afford to be last in the nation like we were in phase 1.
If our state officials do their job, this process can go much more quickly than what has been laid out in their plan. The missteps are evident. Kansas can and must do better. Here’s where we can start:
First, state officials should take direction from local health providers — namely community pharmacists — and use existing networks and relationships. Back in November, prior to any vaccine distribution, Kansas long-term care providers were urged to partner with CVS or Walgreens to administer vaccines at their facility over their preferred, trusted community pharmacy. The problem is, according to the Kansas Pharmacists Association, only 26 out of Kansas’ 105 counties have a retail CVS or Walgreens.
Other states — recognizing the apparent staffing and infrastructure challenges rural communities face — empowered local pharmacists. We need to hand this over to community pharmacists — they have been the backbone of vaccination processes for decades and we need them to take over and implement the process across Kansas.
This will be even more important as we start to vaccinate more vulnerable populations in phase 2. Participation rates will be much better as seniors know and trust their local community pharmacist. They can do this. I know because as a physician, I’ve been working with these folks for decades. They do an incredible job and are well equipped to handle this effort
Kansas’s second stumbling block has been the lack of communication. County health departments are not all certain which entities in their local area have received the vaccine and which populations they are immediately responsible for vaccinating. Additionally, the state has yet to finalize the remaining details of the forthcoming phases, which also adds to the confusion. There is no clear coordination of inventory of unused doses that can be redirected to people that want and need the vaccine.
I understand the uncertainty and fear that the delay in our state’s coronavirus vaccine distribution has caused here at home. As a physician, I always tried to share a message of hope to patients facing a tough diagnosis. Over the past year, I’ve learned even more about how important hope is to all of us.
Time is precious and we cannot afford additional delays, confusion and mismanagement. I remain confident that we will defeat this virus and return to life as normal very soon.
Roger Marshall, M.D., is a U.S. senator from Kansas.